Spring clean for Roman baths in Welwyn

24 hour museum

week a group of volunteers descended on Welwyn Roman Baths in
Hertfordshire, on a staff day-out to clean up the ancient baths.

Staff of the Deloitte St Albans office took it upon themselves to help give the baths a much-needed spring clean.

Tasks inside included collecting dead beetles, which had been buried
amongst the Roman ruins, whilst outside the spring cleaning revolved
around trimming the overgrown trees and grass, along with a fresh lick
of paint to the doors around the site.

Stuart McCabe, a tax partner who was involved in cleaning the Baths,
said: “The Community Day was a resounding success. It was really
rewarding for the team and I to put something directly back into the
local community.”

Caroline Rawle, curator at the museum, was in turn delighted
with the work done by the Deloitte workers, commenting on the “huge
difference the effort will make to our workplace.”

Over 1,500 Deloitte employees around the UK set aside their regular work to contribute to local community organisations

The Welwyn baths are situated in a preservative
steel vault, nine metres under the A1 motorway. Like most public baths
of the time, the Welwyn baths were originally part of a grander villa –
in this case, a third century AD villa named Dicket Mead.

It was not until the 1960s when the baths were discovered and the site
was slowly excavated to unearth what’s on display for visitors today.

Although the baths are no longer working, the intricately preserved
structure of them makes it easy to get a vivid picture of just how the
baths once served as a retreat, not only for washing, but as a centre
for social activities.

“Everyone says ‘I take Spanish’ … but it’s cool to say ‘I take Latin.’ ”

New York Times

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — The Latin class at Isaac E. Young Middle School
here was reading a story the other day with a familiar ring: Boy annoys
girl, girl scolds boy. Only in this version, the characters were named
Sextus and Cornelia, and they argued in Latin.

“I can relate, but what the heck are they saying?” said Xavier Peña, a sixth grader who started studying Latin in September.

Enrollment in Latin classes here in this Westchester County suburb
has increased by nearly one-third since 2006, to 187 of the district’s
10,500 students, and the two middle schools in town are starting an
ancient-cultures club in which students will explore the lives of
Romans, Greeks and others.

The resurgence of a language once rejected as outdated and irrelevant is reflected across the country as
Latin is embraced by a new generation of students like Xavier who seek
to increase SAT scores or stand out from their friends, or simply
harbor a fascination for the ancient language after reading Harry Potter’s Latin-based chanting spells.

The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam
has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past
two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large
increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and
Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in
Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654
in 2007. While Spanish and French still dominate student schedules —
and Chinese and Arabic are trendier choices — Latin has quietly
flourished in many high-performing suburbs, like New Rochelle, where
Latin’s virtues are sung by superintendents and principals who took it
in their day. In neighboring Pelham, the 2,750-student district just
hired a second full-time Latin teacher after a four-year search,
learning that scarce Latin teachers have become more sought-after than

On Long Island, the Jericho district is offering an Advanced Placement course in Latin for the first time this year after its Latin enrollment rose to 120 students, a 35 percent increase since 2002. In nearby Great Neck, 36 fifth graders signed up last year for before- and after-school Latin classes that were started by a 2008 graduate who has moved on to study classics at Stanford (that student’s brother and a friend will continue to lead the Latin classes this year).

Latin is also thriving in New York City, where it is currently taught in about three dozen schools , including Brooklyn Latin, a high school in East Williamsburg that started in 2006. Four years of
Latin, and two of Spanish, are required at the new high school, where Latin phrases adorn the walls and words like discipuli (students), magistri (teachers) and latrina (bathroom) are sprinkled into everyday

“It’s the language of scholars and educated people,” said Jason Griffiths, headmaster of Brooklyn Latin. “It’s the language of people who are successful. I think it’s a draw, and that’s certainly what we sell.”

Adam D. Blistein, executive director of the American Philological Association at the University of Pennsylvania,  which represents more than 3,000 members, including classics professors
and Latin teachers, said that more high schools were recognizing the
benefits of Latin. It builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT
scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of
critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion, he said.

“Goethe is better in German, Flaubert is better in French and Virgil is better
in Latin,” Dr. Blistein said. “If you stick with it, the lollipop comes
at the end when you get to read the original. In many cases, it’s what
whets their appetite.”

Latin was once required at many public and parochial schools, but fell into disfavor during the 1960s when students rebelled against traditional classroom teachings and even the Roman Catholic Church
moved away from Latin as the official language of Mass. Interest in Latin was revived somewhat in the 1970s and began picking up in the 1980s with the back-to-basics movement in many schools, according to Latin scholars, but really took off in the last few years as a language long seen as a stodgy ivory tower secret infiltrated popular culture.

Harry Potter books use Latin words for names and spells, and at least two
have been translated into Latin (“Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis”),
as have several by Dr. Seuss (“Cattus Petasatus”). Movies like “Gladiator” and “Troy” have also lent glamour to the ancient world.

“Sometimes you need to know Latin to understand that part,” said Adrian
McCullough, 10, a sixth grader in New Rochelle who plans to reread the
Harry Potter books now that he is learning Latin.

Marty Abbott, education director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages,
said it was possible that Latin would edge out German as the third most
popular language taught in schools, behind Spanish and French, when the
preliminary results of an enrollment survey are released next year. In
the last survey, covering enrollment in 2000, Latin placed fourth. “In
people’s minds, it’s coming back,” she said. “But it’s always been
there. It’s just that we continue to see interest in it.”

Ms. Abbott, a former Latin teacher, said that today’s Latin classes
appeal to more students because they have evolved from “dry grammar and
tortuous translations” to livelier lessons that focus on culture,
history and the daily life of the Romans. In addition, she said, Latin
teachers and students have promoted the language outside the classroom
through clubs, poetry competitions and mock chariot races.

In Scarsdale, N.Y., where Latin enrollment rose by 14 percent to 80 this year, the high school sponsors a Roman banquet on the Ides of March during which students come wearing tunics and wreaths in their hair. Seniors serve bread, olives, roasted chicken and grapes to younger students, and all of them break bread with their hands. Dr. Marion Polsky, the Latin teacher, said that former students still send her
postcards written in Latin and that at least three have gone on to become Latin teachers.

Here in New Rochelle, the district introduced a Latin class for sixth graders last year and is now adding
a second Latin class for seventh graders. Richard Organisciak, the superintendent, said the district had spent $273,000 since 2006 to promote foreign languages including Latin. Last month, the district
also started a dual-language English-Italian kindergarten and a Greek class at the high school; it is considering offering Chinese next fall.

The high school principal, Don Conetta, said he had encouraged more
students to study Latin, though he acknowledged that he was hardly “a
stellar student” himself in Latin and came to appreciate its value only
later in life.

“If my Latin teachers could hear me now,” he said.
“I took three years in high school, and four semesters in college, and
I can’t remember the first line of Cicero’s orations.”

Students like Ciera Gardner, a sophomore, started Latin three years ago with two
friends who have since dropped out because of the workload. But Ciera,
an aspiring actress, said that she had persisted because Latin would
look good on her college applications and that in the meantime, it had
already helped her decipher unfamiliar words while reading scripts.
“It’s different,” she said. “Everyone says ‘I take Spanish’ or ‘I take
Italian,’ but it’s cool to say ‘I take Latin.’ ”

Max Gordon, another sophomore, said that he had learned more about grammar in Latin
class than in English class. And he occasionally debates the finer
points of grammar with his mother, Kit Fitzgerald, a video artist who
studied Latin, while washing dishes after dinner.

“In some ways, it’s really frustrating,” he said. “I’ll hear someone say something
that isn’t grammatically correct and I’ll cringe.”

Letter to the Times on the leader about the Romans

The Times

This corrective is true on the whole, but the ‘soundbite’ at the end is misleading. To say ‘they conquered, they exploited, and in the end they went away’ hardly does justice to 400 years of government, in which Britons were very much involved on a local level. It is a moot point how much the Romans found to exploit. Were Welsh gold and Somerset lead, and possibly British corn, enough to explain their four century province. And when they went away, was it because the land was exhausted of stuff to exploit, as the soundbite could lead one to think, or because affairs in Italy left them no option?

Incidentally, someone commented on this letter:

‘The Romans came, they saw, they conquered, they exploited — and then in the end, they went away. ‘

So that’s one legacy the British kept then.

Donal, Madrid, Spain

It is deeply ironic that this comment comes from Spain, of all places…

Sir, Your leading article on the Roman invasion (Oct 3) and its influence shows a strange view of the history of our island and its language.

When the Roman armies withdrew in the early 5th century, the influence of Latin declined, surviving mainly in monasteries. Our language, Germanic in origin, came with the subsequent waves of Saxon, Angle etc settlements, heralded by the semi-mythical figures of Hengist and Horsa. Yes, Latin words were adopted, but by far the greatest influence of a Latin-based language came later, with Norman French.

Of interest is perhaps not how much lasting influence the Romans left, but how
little. Their language was largely supplanted and I don’t imagine too many
“Dark Age” inhabitants of this island enjoyed the hot baths, central heating
and wine that you mention. Even the Roman state religion, Christianity, went
into decline and needed to be revived by St Augustine.

The Romans came, they saw, they conquered, they exploited — and then in the
end, they went away.

David Oliver


Mary Beard’s thoughts on Ostia

You can read Mary’s thoughts here.

I myself enjoy the peace of Ostia, but was disturbed to hear from a colleague that while she was on honeymoon she get separated for a short time from her new husband in Ostia, and a policeman attempted to rape her. It was a long time ago…

But sometimes there is safety in a crowd.

£4 million lottery grant for Vindolanda

Roman treasures are coming home

Volunteers come from across the world Vindolanda

FINDS from Northumberland which have been voted Britain’s greatest archaeological treasure are set to return to the county.

Their homecoming is just one of the spin-offs from news today that the Vindolanda Roman site in Northumberland has been earmarked for £4m in Heritage Lottery funding.

The money would mean that the Vindolanda Trust could expand and upgrade the museum which houses spectacular discoveries from the annual digs which take place on the site.

A significant element of Vindolanda’s collection currently in storage will be able to be shown for the first time.

At the centre of the new display would be examples of the Vindolanda writing tablets.

Around 2,000 of the tablets, which carry the voices of people from almost 2,000 years ago, have been found at Vindolanda.

After conservation and research, they are sent to the British Museum.

Talks are under way with the British Museum on using the new display area for an exhibition of a selection of the tablets which would be periodically refreshed with new examples.

Patricia Birley, director of the Vindolanda Trust, said: “The Vindolanda tablets are currently held at the British Museum but the project will enable selected tablets to be returned and displayed where they were written.

“We are delighted with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) decision. The grant is an immense boost for the work of the Vindolanda Charitable Trust and it will also enhance the central sector of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.

“The trust is extremely grateful to the HLF for their support for this project which is so important for the preservation, access and sustainable future of this exceptional northern frontier Roman site.”

The £4m has been set aside by the HLF as a stage one pass.

Vindolanda can now progress to stage two and submit a further, fully developed application to secure the full grant.

The grant would also pay for the conversion of an existing building into an education centre and accommodation for lower-income dig volunteers.

Each year more than 500 volunteers work on the Vindolanda excavations, many of them travelling from across the UK and from overseas.

Another project would be a new exhibition at the neighbouring Carvoran Roman Army Museum.

This would focus on the different ethnic make-up of the army and the population of Hadrian’s Wall.

Dr Keith Bartlett, head of the HLF in the North East, said: “Vindolanda is one of the most fascinating and exciting sites in the history of the Roman world, shedding light upon the everyday lives of those who lived and worked there.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund’s support will enable the Vindolanda Trust to open up this unique site to many more visitors and so further enhance tourism in the North East.”